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Send Lawyers, Judges

By Annie Gausn | Jun. 2, 2006

News

Law Office Management

Jun. 2, 2006

Send Lawyers, Judges

In the rapidly growing Inland Empire, the legal system wrestles with a critical shortage of lawyers and judges.

By Traci Hukill
     
      In the Inland Empire, there's a critical shortage of both.
      As one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country, the Inland Empire-which includes San Bernardino and Riverside counties-is feeding Southern California's ravenous appetite for cheap land. In fact, more than 500,000 of its 3.8 million residents arrived there just in the past five years. But the economies of sprawling suburbs often are immature, and in the Inland Empire local governments are straining to meet demands. The boom has also left the region with too few lawyers and judges.
     
      California State Bar President James Heiting, who practices law in Riverside, is particularly concerned about the area's judge shortage, which he describes as dire. In fact, in December the case backlog in Riverside County was so bad that the court suspended all civil trials for a month just so it could catch up on criminal cases.
     
      The way the Administrative Office of the Courts figures it, San Bernardino County should have 139 judges; instead it has 75 judges and commissioners. Riverside County needs 121 judges; it has 69. That makes San Bernardino and Riverside two of the most judge-deprived counties in the state. Heiting says that if funding for more local judgeships fails to materialize, he will push for forced transfers of judges from places where the supply is more plentiful. "We can't have some counties where judges are going home at 11 a.m., while judges here are working weekends and evenings and still can't keep up."
     
      Meanwhile, on the other side of the bench, there's one practicing lawyer in the Inland Empire for every 840 residents, according to the State Bar. By contrast, Los Angeles has one lawyer for every 217 residents, and Orange County has one for every 223.
     
      "There's a shortage of practicing lawyers, there's a shortage of civil engineers, there's a shortage of everything out here," says economist John Husing, who has studied the Inland Empire for more than 40 years.
     
      However, the shortage may soon be alleviated, says Donald Dunn, dean of the University of La Verne College of Law in Ontario, which recently became the first law school in the region to win provisional accreditation by the American Bar Association. Dunn notes that 65 percent of La Verne's 1,000 or so law graduates remain in the area.
     
      "We just happened to come along at the right time," says Dunn. "I see in this region potential for great growth in quality law firms. The economy is booming, but some of the major businesses still go to Los Angeles for their legal representation. Quite frankly, it's just silly to continue paying L.A. rates, which are at least 25 percent to 30 percent higher than you would pay here."
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Annie Gausn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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